Couples who are getting married should be forced to have a DNA test first to ensure they are not cousins amid growing concern about incest within Pakistani communities, Britain’s first Asian peer has claimed.
Baroness Flather, a former Tory who now sits as a cross-bencher, said in the House of Lords that it is “absolutely appalling” that first cousin marriages in Pakistani communities are leading to “so much disability among children”.
She said: “There are a lot of first-cousin marriages in certain communities, particularly among Pakistanis who come from the Pakistani Kashmir area. We know so much about DNA now, but there is so much disability among the children, which is absolutely appalling.
“You go to any such family and there will be four or five children, at least one or two of whom will have some disability. That is absolutely unacceptable, and if we cannot do anything about it, is it fair to the children?”
Baroness Flather, a former barrister who was born in the Pakistani city of Lahore when it was part of India, said: “Never mind the parents — it is not fair to the children that they should be allowed to become disabled because of a social practice. It is a social practice which does not belong in today’s age, when we know so much about DNA. There should at least be some rule which says that you must have a DNA examination before your marriage can be registered.”
First-cousin marriages, which are are legal in the UK, are practised within Britain’s Pakistani community, as well as among some Arab and African families. Medical data previously suggested that while British Pakistanis were responsible for 3 per cent of all births, they accounted for 30 per cent of British children born with a genetic illness.
The noble Baroness Flather also raised concerns about Sharia law, under which women struggle to get a divorce.
She said: “I know I am probably talking about Muslims, but we now have this business of sharia marriages. It is appalling that the man can get a divorce by just asking for it, while a woman may have to wait years, and may still not get it. She can get a British divorce, but not a sharia divorce.
Noble Lords may ask, “Why does that matter?”, and I asked that of those women. They replied, “It means that we can’t go to Pakistan”.
“If they go there, the husband can come and take the children away, no matter what age they are. In any case, the husband can take the children from a sharia marriage when they are seven. All marriages should be automatically registered in this country. It is not fair to the women that some British women — they are British women when they come here — are treated in a different and unacceptable way from others.”